As the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, the seeds of the Cold War were sown with the occupation by the Western Allies of West Germany and the Soviet Union of the East. The ideological struggle between capitalism and communism took flight with the USA being the standard bearer of Western capitalist democracy, and the Soviet Union, communism. It was not long before the Cold War reached the Caribbean.
On January 1, 1959, the revolutionary forces of Fidel Castro overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista and the Cold War came within sight of the USA. Long regarded as the playground of the USA, Fidel Castro swiftly dismantled the capitalist infrastructure of Cuba and announced the arrival of socialism. The Cold War drama swiftly manifested itself in international tension when the USA backed a failed attempt at the Bay of Pigs to invade Cuba on April 17, 1961, and restore Western-style democracy. This failed invasion led to an intensification of the relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union and an agreement for the Soviet Union to install nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba as a military deterrent to the USA. In October 1962 for a period of 13 days, the Soviet Union and the USA confronted each other over the presence of the nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis was only averted by an agreement between the USA and the Soviet Union for the removal of the missiles from Cuba and an undertaking from the USA not to invade Cuba.
The allure of socialism with its clarion call of economic equality for all, resonated throughout the developing world, particularly the Caribbean, in varying degrees. Michael Manley took Jamaica, a geographic neighbour of Cuba and the USA, within the ambit of socialism in espousing a philosophy of democratic socialism during the period of 1972 to 1980, while developing close links with USSR and Cuba. The proliferation of the Lada motor car in Jamaica was a clear symbol of the Cold War in Jamaica. The experiment in socialist democracy collapsed spectacularly in 1980 with the Jamaican economy in shambles and the re-emergence of the Jamaican Labour Party, a political group that eschewed socialism.
The Cold War had a more tragic result in the Caribbean with the Grenadian Revolution. In 1979, the New Jewel Movement led by Maurice Bishop overthrew the despotic regime of Eric Gairy and announced the formation of a Marxist-Leninist state. This revolution ended with the execution of Maurice Bishop in 1983 at the hands of hard-line communists within the NJM, and the invasion of Grenada by the USA to restore democracy.
As the Soviet embraced perestroika (limited political and economic reform) and glasnost (greater transparency in governance) with the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, the end of the Cold War and victory for Western political ideals were swift. The start of the crumbling of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, was the death knell of the forces of communism and the Soviet Union.
History has shown, however, that the demise of the Soviet Union was temporary and under the leadership of a new Czar, Vladimir Putin, the Soviet Union, now Russia, is back. No longer an adherent to the tenets of communism, Russia is now an authoritarian capitalist state, flexing its military muscles across the globe. Entering Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad, together with Iranian proxies, Syria has been handed back to Assad. This unholy alliance between an authoritarian capitalist state and a theocratic dictatorship is now creating a new axis of evil, that is wending its way to the Caribbean. Russia landed two nuclear-capable bombers in Venezuela on December 10, 2018. This development coupled with a report in early December 2018, that Iran intended to deploy two or three naval vessels to Venezuela must be of great concern to the Caribbean.
The Caribbean during the Cold War was mainly a loyal ally of the USA but is now faced with a scenario where the Commander in Twitter of the USA, would appear to lack an ability to discern between his allies and his foes. In a thinly veiled criticism of Trump, Jim Mattis in his resignation letter as Secretary of Defense dated December 20, 2018, noted, “Our core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect for those allies…My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues.” As we tread the waters of the neo-Cold War, the Caribbean has to look to its superpower sponsor with much trepidation. A nation led by a man seemingly oblivious to his historical role as the symbol of the defender of democracy provides little comfort by his propensity for political chicaneries.
Prof Rajendra Ramlogan is a lecturer in Commercial and Environmental Law at The University of the West Indies.